Friday, February 09, 2007

More Politics In The Bay

Turmoil in Bay St. Louis government is escalating right up to the top level.
The city's long-time attorney, John A. Scafide Jr., is tossing in his towel. And City Council has refused to appoint the mayor's pick for chief of police, Deputy Chief Tom Burleson.
And while some say development in the city is spiraling literally out of control, Mayor Eddie Favre is being blasted for failing to hire a new chief building official. The slot has been empty since William R. Carrigee quit, under fire, in September.
Scafide refused to be interviewed Tuesday on his decision to leave his post as top legal eagle after 22 years in that key position. He apparently wouldn't have mentioned his departure at all, but for the fact that Ward 2 council member James C. Thriffiley III shot a sudden question directly at Scafide about it during a meeting.
Asked his intentions and status, Scafide said simply he would be gone by the end of March. Later, he said he might leave at the end of February.
There had been some quiet talk in recent weeks that Scafide was considering retiring or resigning – what he's doing is not clear. But his abrupt departure comes at a critical juncture in the city's history, no matter which it is.
The son of a former mayor, Scafide is seen as an expert in the areas of city and county zoning, subdivision regulations, real estate law and the municipal code. He has an incredible reservoir of personal recollections about the city's history.
The city is under fire to zone the newly annexed area, adopt a new comprehensive plan, change the old zoning and subdivision regulations and adopt a redistricting plan. Plus, there's a new historic preservation ordinance in the wings, all of which would have come under Scafide's scrutiny after hired outside planners come up with recommendations.
He gets paid a $500 monthly retainer, and charges $75 an hour for additional work for the city.
When it once appeared that Scafide might be in a conflict of interest situation due to proposed casino development in the early 90's, the city hired attorney Donald J. Rafferty to staff all casino-related matters.
In recent years, Rafferty has assumed a much broader role than that, however, taking over some of the workload Scafide otherwise would have had.
Meanwhile, council went behind closed doors for about a half hour at 11 p.m. Tuesday night to debate the mayor's proposed appointment of Tom Burleson as chief of police. Favre had told the Sea Coast Echo several weeks ago he would elevate Burleson from deputy chief to the top slot, once Frank McNeil's retirement became effective.
Favre said Burleson deserved a shot at the chief's job, having climbed through the ranks and amassed great experience, including training at the FBI academy. Moving him to the top slot set off a round of proposed personnel shifts just below him – and triggered some fury in the process.
Some say they expect a civil action to be filed by at least one unhappy officer who saw plans to promote lesser experienced officers ahead of him.
Since executive sessions are closed, it's not clear what prompted council to set aside Burleson's appointment. But it's generally believed council members had wanted a broader consideration for the top post than automatically elevating Burleson.
In the Fire Department, Favre had to launch a full fledged investigation recently to quell discontent among the personnel there. At one time, half the fire fighters were said to be ready to call it quits over personnel actions internally.
And the vacancy at the top of the Building Department came with the chief building official's resignation, along with several of his staffers, amid widespread controversy.
In a rare display of anger and frustration Tuesday, the usually calm, reserved Ward 4 council member Bobby Compretta demanded action. "It's so important...We need to do something about the Building Department."
Compretta said Favre's chief assistant, Harold "Buz" Olsen is too busy, wearing too many municipal hats to be effective in leading the building department. And Compretta said if the city needs to up its $48,000 salary level of the job, so be it. He demanded to see a list of pay comparables in this area.
And meanwhile, Compretta said the city simply has forgotten or ignored its moratorium on condominium construction, leaving it wide open to happen.
The city has no code provisions governing condominium construction. "I make a motion to extend the moratorium for six more months Let's do something!" he almost yelled. His motion passed unanimously, quickly and without debate.
Earlier in the meeting, Compretta's predecessor in office Tad Black, told council he's glad he's no longer among them.
But Black said lack of Building Department oversight has left the city pockmarked with junk, illegal billboards and trailers being stacked up on pilings, without permits. Buildings are being built without site plan reviews, he said, providing no required screening or green space.
Black served two terms as Ward 4 council member, then lost a bid for mayor.

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